On January 7, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) visited Turkey for the first time, and met, also for the first time, her Turkish relatives in an Istanbul reunion organized by the Turkish Coalition of America.

During the lively and sentimental gathering, TCA President G. Lincoln McCurdy introduced Chairwomen Ros-Lehtinen to 15 members of her extended family and two leaders of the Jewish community in Turkey.

“I am very happy to find my roots and to meet my family,” said Rep. Ros-Lehtinen, who expressed her appreciation to TCA for organizing the unique gathering.

Rep. Ros-Lehtinen with her second cousins and TCA In 1913, Ros-Lehtinen's maternal grandfather, Celebi Adato, left the city of Kirklareli (in what is now northwestern Turkey) for Cuba, fleeing the devastation and economic collapse caused by the First Balkan War, which began in October 1912 when the Balkan League—comprised of Bulgaria, Greece, Serbia and Montenegro—declared war on the Ottoman Empire.

Ros-Lehtinen’s grandfather and his family belonged to one of the Balkans’ thriving Jewish communities. During the Balkan Wars, these communities were almost completely destroyed, and her relatives who did not flee to Cuba were forced to spend the winter of 1913 in a refugee camp.

During the reunion, McCurdy recognized the unique historical connection that exists between Turkish and Jewish peoples. He noted that the history of Ros-Lehtinen’s relatives parallels that of numerous Turks, who suffered greatly during the Balkan Wars. During those conflicts, approximately 1.5 million Ottoman Muslims in the Balkans died, and another 400,000 became refugees.